Even a soccer newbie will get a kick out of this video game.
Well, old in technology-years. They don't have slick, high-def graphics. They don't have wireless, motion-sensitive controllers. They are not cutting edge. But these venerable consoles do have well-respected catalogues with serious depth and breadth. Here are some of 2006's E-rated standouts for the Playstation 2 (PS2), Xbox and Game Cube (GC). Here are some of 2006's E-rated standouts.
World Soccer Winning Eleven (PS2 Xbox, $35)
The Winning Eleven franchise has been hailed as the best video game soccer series around, and the ninth iteration continues that tradition. Controlling your player is elegantly simple and intuitive, so even soccer-game neophytes (like me) can pick it up in no time. The various training modes, however, reveal a veritable library of moves that add to the game's already considerable depth. While playing single games is great fun, the career mode -- you get to be a manager/coach --adds a whole other dimension of play that's quite engaging. If you tire of that, you can always play with your friends, or hop on Microsoft's or Sony's online service to find competition. My only complaint is the lack of licensing, which is not a big deal but does hurt the otherwise unflinching realism. You can't play as your favorite real-life team nor can you compete in the World Cup.
Bottom Line: A must have for any soccer or sports fan, and a great edition to any gamer's library.
Lego Star Wars 2 (Most systems, $30-$50)
No, it's not just Star Wars enacted by Lego blocks. Rather, it is this year's greatest thrill for fans of the movie and of the build-it-yourself Lego ethos. You control as many as seven iconic characters (which calls for a good bit of strategy). You do battle in familiar places (like the forest moon of Endor, complete with fuzzy Ewoks). You even have to build things with Lego blocks (on screen, of course). It's a great action game, rated E 10+ because of the cartoon violence. But there's nothing more violent than the Star Wars movies. And, plus, we're talking about characters who are not flesh and blood -- for heaven's sake, they're made of Legos!
Bottom Line: Can become repetitive but is still one of the better games using the revered Star Wars and LEGO licenses. Wonderfully funny, sharp-looking.
Harvest Moon: Magical Melody (GC, $40)
Okay. It's strange. And sickeningly cute. And yet ... surprisingly entertaining. You choose a plot of land in Flower Bud Village. And then you farm it. Natural disasters, rival farmers and a tough market make it difficult to stay in the black. You can raise animals or crops, and eventually buy more land to control. If you want to take a break from the tough life of farming, go to fairs or take a fishing trip. The game's open-endedness may seem daunting at first, but it doesn't take much time to get things under control. There's also a fairytale storyline -- well-mannered gnomes ask you to collect musical notes to save the Harvest Goddess. But really, it's all about capitalism. And yes, capitalism is compelling. Just ask Adam Smith if you don't believe me.
Bottom Line: The strange premise is actually fun, although there's a bit of cute overload, too many options and no time limits.
Ape Escape 3 (PS2, $25)
Four hundred monkeys have created a host of mind-numbingly dumb TV shows that are turning brains all over the world into mush. Their goal is to eliminate resistance to the evil Specter. As the brother-sister duo Kei and Yumi, your job is to find and capture Specter's 400 monkeys before all is lost. Armed with a personal helicopter, monkey radar and a gaggle of gadgets, you'll travel to different TV sets—from the Arabian Nights to westerns -- as you battle the simians. Banana launchers and weapons from the TV sets (including a six-shooter) earned a 10+ rating for cartoon violence. But really, how else can you catch cartoon monkeys?
Bottom Line: If you don't like monkeys or stage-prop firearms, stay away. Otherwise this is a wonderfully funny and well-made 3-D adventure game.